Noumea History

The Bay of Lemons 1944 – today it is one of the most fashionable and popular lagoon-side strip of restaurants, bars and shops in Noumea.

New Caledonia and its capital Noumea have a fascinating history, not dissimilar in a way to Australia. Both were penal colonies, with the worst of convicts being sent to this remote French island to be put to work to build a South Pacific French colony.

Visitors will find plenty of books and articles on the history of the ‘nickel’ island, and it is not this website’s intention to provide yet another history lesson.

For Australian and New Zealand visitors particularly, New Caledonia has a fascination because of its involvement in the 2nd World War. Local New Caledonians, including many Kanaks, the Melanesian first settlers, served with distinction in the campaign, and New Caledonia became a significant staging point for the US, Australian and New Zealand troops, and also served as the main medical evacuation point for the Pacific.

Much of Noumea’s early infrastructure was built by the American troops, and it was recorded that on one day, 20,000 US marines landed at Tontouta airport, when the French population of the town was barely 9,000 people.

Lagoon communities such as the Bay of Lemons, now one of the most popular spots for locals and tourists because of its restaurants and bars, was originally a massive army camp.  Read the full story of New Caledonia’s role in the two world wars.  

The video which follows contains interesting images of those war years, captured on video when the Noumea Museum hung scores of photographs of the activities of the US troops on outdoor public display in the heart of Noumea several years ago.

We recommend the following book, translated into English for its detailed and fascinating history of Noumea and its people, from the very beginning:

Let me guide you in Noumea by Jacqueline Julien. Editions Grain de sable, 1999 Email: [email protected]

Even New Caledonia adopted the feared guillotine to dispense justice, and the last one used in that country is on display at the Bourail Museum about one hour north of Noumea. Fernando Tourisme can take you there. Read about the history of the guillotine here.

To read the general history of New Caledonia and its reliance on nickel mining, click here.


Buildings and history of New Caledonia

The Dumbea Omelette Festival

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